Having read that description, you will be as disappointed as he and I both are to know that instead of the real history, we will be asked to plop down 20 or 30 dollars to buy a hard-cover book filled with new-ruins. The premature disappearance and baffling reappearance of Deanna, the mysterious fate of the Nichols children, the tasty mustache of Phil Richards and more will all be there to show Lynn's utter apathy as to the continuity of her strip. Since the damnable thing is exactly two years less a month long, it also explains why the experiment went on as long as it did; we had to endure everything from the saga of Frank and Fred the fish to Elly yelling at John for going to what she thought was the right cabin too so as to have enough to fill the new book. This, of course, meant that her earlier statement about the changeover occurring when the story was strong enough to stand on its own was a lie; to be lied to about THAT is yet another disappointment. It should be noted that howtheduck's suspicion that the only new artwork that Lynn will do from now on is for the covers is also correct.
howtheduck seems to have noticed a pattern developing in the Sunday strips Lynn is using to replace the classics she used last year. As we know, the strip for 17 January 2010 contained recycled devices from older strips. As happened before (or will happen again depending on your point of view), an adult, usually John, sees a child building something in the snow, takes over and, after he's done, finds out that the child is inside where it's warm. The strip for 31 January 2010 has elements from a strip from 1991 that has Elly complain about gum left in the clothes, a sequence that has April running around cutting things with scissors and all the times that we've seen Patterson children take orders in a literal and humorous fashion. This means that we should probably check the Sunday strips to see how much classic material she uses; why she does so, of course, is easier to figure out. Her reasoning seems to be that if it worked before, it'll work again. It also allows her to 'fulfill' her promise of expanding the storyline before April when she goes to straight reprints; by showing us things that look familiar, she can tell people that she's establishing patterns of behavior in the Patterson household. (This, of course, assumes that she's thought that far ahead.)
As I said recently, there's been a disturbing change in how Lynn has approached the Holiday season; we started out with an Elly who was slightly more enthusiastic about the festivities than her children; granted, she didn't like cleaning up the mess or her children's pleas of boredom with their toys but, as I'd said, it was a small price to pay for Yuletide joy. As an example of the need Elly had to preserve the mystique, the recent return to Santa was originally her way of making sure that her son didn't associate Christmas with nubile blondes wrapped in cellophane; her later decision, which she regretted, to tell Mike that Santa was less a person than a personification didn't put a serious dent in her enjoyment. For that to happen, we had to wait until the early 2000s; the Elly of old had mutated into the frothingly frustrated mess that flapped, honked and wanted to own horses; that incarnation of the main character was a petty figure who was done with caring about any needs other than her own and filled with the need to show up her rival, Mira Sobinski. April was allowed to set the tone by whining about how Dee's mother supposedly won all the time and how unfair it was that the Pattersons had to share things with people they despised merely because it was the latter part of December. Another example of Yuletide begrudgery was Liz's final confrontation with Thérèse; I'm fairly sure that in Lynn's mind, Thérèse has earned the nasty reputation she'd been given but, for some reason, that didn't translate to the printed page any more than Liz's severe case of homesickness did. What we instead saw was an ill-used and justifiably angry woman forced to watch as the woman whose family ruined her life seem to take away one of the few good things in it: the love and trust of her child. This immediately proceeded the most hateful thing I've seen in years: the Yuletide Meal of Malice. Not only did we have Anthony do what new-ruin Elly did and use Santa's name as a means to frighten a trusting child into compliance with her dictates, we had April exiled to the kiddie table like an afterthought as well as the gluttonous vermin begrudging Mira the ninety or so seconds it took to say Grace because they wanted to wolf down their food while it was still unbelievably hot.
As we've all seen, the latest feature to appear on the For Better or For Worse homepage is an online catalog of strips that goes pretty much back to the beginning of the Patterson saga to the Settlepocalypse as well as into the New-Ruin era. We're allowed to search for a keyword, to look at selected plotlines, to select strips at random and to search for a punchline. The only feature that is not currently available is a search by a date range but it was probably assumed that the typical end user wouldn't know when the strip he or she was looking for actually occured so it was probably deemed unnecessary to implement it at this time. The reason that this appears now is that it probably took a lot of time to fulfill a need that had been apparent for some time; most of the letters that come into Coffee Talk are probably requests for a particular strip and now they're able to point the readers into the right direction at the click of a mouse. It also reassures the readers that even though she must leave them, Lynn isn't really going anywhere; they'll always be able to find her online.
You can't read the strip for as long as I have without noticing something that howtheduck picked up on years ago; he noticed that Lynn believes in a strict segregation between adult and child behavior. In her world, adults should act like adults and children like children. This is, of course, why Elly is in a blind panic about the prospect of being a stay-at-home mother; she clearly seems to have dreaded violating the laws of Foob and Whatever-God-the-Pattersons-believe-in by taking an interest in the things her children do and how they think. The 'proper' role of a parent is to sit back and stare at her children while they do whatever useless, boring, not-at-all-interesting-or-worth-
As you've noticed, there's a discrepancy between what gocomics.com and fborfw.com say are the official Strip of the Day; aprilp_katje and I were both told by Stephanie that the re-reprint was sent in with this week's batch of strips by mistake. Call me nuts but I believe them when they say they made an honest mistake; it's not hard to imagine that they, for instance, sent them in in the wrong order and only learned there was a problem when it was too late to do anything about it. Do I think that we should ignore what most of the world sees and focus on what the Corbeil people want us to see? No, because what ends up on the page is more really the strip than what's on Lynn's website. We can, however, acknowledge their vision of reality until it meshes with everyone elses.
Back before September 2008, Lynn had a curious habit that sort of distracted our attention from what she was saying; instead of assuming that her audience was capable of reading between the lines, she gave us a blow-by-blow account of the things she thought were important while hiding the background details in the monthly letters. She seems to be doing much the same thing now but, as howtheduck said, there's a subtle difference; it seems more than likely that Lynn has a largish pile of strips from the first and second years that are in no particular chronological order. When she needs a strip, she just picks the top one off the pile, sends it to the syndicate and vaguely hopes that it isn't something that's already appeared in the last year or so so she doesn't get an annoying phone call about readers complainig about repeating herself. It doesn't matter if by doing so, she makes the Pattersons look as if they have no short-term memory; all that matters is that she fills in time until next Spring.
As you may or may not know, trumanf recently told us of an entry he’d read by a regular contributor to the Comics Curmudgeon. I’ve highlighted certain passages of the part of it that attracted my interest the most:
Very briefly, watching Lynn Johnston draw this past Saturday was just sad. She was doing a drawing on a sheet of paper about 7 feet tall, so she couldn’t reach the top edge. Whenever she would step back to gauge the result, her hands would subtly tremble. When she came back and gripped the edge of the drawing board, and gripped the sharpie to draw with, the trembling would move to her head.
She had several originals of strips and the final printed versions, and in one case (Liz playing in sandcastle in summer and not making it in time, with big bro telling her to go play in the sprinkler to disguise it) had significant changes, and part of it was, from the note affixed, because her hand had trembled too much to be of publishable quality.
The conclusion that a lot of us came to was that the dystonia that Lynn offered as one of the reasons for retiring in the first place has come back to haunt her. Given her odd belief that telling people what’s wrong with you is an unfair burden on their time and general need to not depress people with bad news, we could conceivably never have known about this until we were told of it by an eyewitness. This puts her plan to go to straight reprints some time next Spring in a slightly different perspective; she might have spent years trying to rearrange the Pattersons’ history into something she mistakenly thinks that everyone would love but her inability to hold her pen seems to have gotten in the way.
As you probably remember, Coffee Talk used to feature a weekly letter that updated us on life in the Pattermanse; before Lynn got bored with the feature owing to reader response that wasn't what she'd hoped, she had Elly try taking extension classes only to drop them due to it conflicting with her artificially busy schedule and lack of support from her family. This is probably going to be one of the plot holes that Lynn ignores when she rewrites the "Elly's Night School" story as I assume she's about to; this is, of course, so Elly can see the course-work interfere with her artifically-busy schedule and mourn her family's lack of support for her education. We can also expect the teacher who more or less correctly identified her as a bored housewife trying to show off as being an even more tyrannical ogre and John being an even more selfish saboteur. Instead of simply suggesting to Mike that Elly is doing this because she hates him and wants to run away from him, he'll flat-out tell him that this time so he can stifle Elly's creativity, destroy her freedom of expression, chain her to the stove and do all the other things that Elly says he does in order to excuse herself from her inability to apply herself or deal with pressure. The nice thing is that we can be sure that it will raise more questions than it answers and be an inferior substitute for the original.
In the latest newsletter, Lynn made the following statement:
“I'm doing well over 50% new material [to supplement the older strips] in order to bring the story around to the time when it can run on its own. The transition will be in the early spring and until then, count on LOTS of brand new work!!”
What this means, of course, is that she needs six more months to fill in the plot holes that she created during the first year of the new format. Given that we’ve been given a fairly inadequate and unsatisfactory explanation for Deanna’s premature disappearance and subsequent reappearance, a version of the “John hires Elly as Jean’s replacement that rewrote the original arc almost entirely, filler strips that handwave away the premature arrival of Farley, a Mike that acts like a different sort of whiny, entitled little creep and that we have to somehow convince Connie that Phil thinks of her as a potential mate as well as expand on Elly’s night school in a manner that not only demonizes John but also increases her martyrdom, we can look forward to six more months of lousy material and gaping plot holes before she decides that it isn’t really strong enough and continues onward.
I was going to remind myself of why it is that Mike and Liz were, to put it kindly, indifferent students today but something happened to delay that: Deanna returned and it wasn't simply hand-waved away. We had every right to expect that just as Lynn back-pedalled on the size of Annie's family and whether Mike was attending prescool, she'd simply plop Dee on the landscape without explanation. If people were to point this out, her fans would exhort them to not think about what they read and enjoy their bullcrap sandwich. The fact that Lynn has decided to call attention to her return tells me that she's decided to fill the gap she punched in the timeline by introducing Farley prematurely by having all the characters whine about how Evil Mira wanted to evilly ruin everyone's happiness with her evil ambitions; the Twoo Wuv that Mike and Dee share was only saved because Wilf managed to save his family from his evil wife's evilly wanting to win all the time and provide them with social, cultural and monetary advantages that were not being provided by being Touched By Pattersons. Unless they build their cities with the blessings of the Foobs, they buildeth in vain.
As I write this, Lynn has started the second year of the new-ruin era as Mike enters the first grade. As we watch Elly fill herself with martyrdom and embarrassment because she's regressed to the point that she still can't pay attention in class, I'd like to speculate on the things we're going to learn this year:
- Elly thought that kindergarten and preschool were the same thing.
- Mike will spend more time being a disruption in class than actually studying owing to his having inherited Elly's tendency towards inattention.
- Deanna didn't actually leave town because Wilf's job opportunity fell through.
- John wants to keep Elly chained to the stove because he's mean.
- The stress of having to pay attention to his coursework will force Mike to lash out at Lizzie and make him call her names.
- Connie is not only needy enough to chase after Phil when he makes a return trip to the Pattermanse, she even dates Loser Ted.
- Elly will continue to shriek at Farley.
I may be off-base on some of the predictions and forgetten things but I think you might agree that I've got some good ideas as to what to expect.
It's hard to believe that the first year of the new-ruin era has gone by already and we have learned so little. Lynn had, as we all know, promised to use the time to expand on the background of the strip and, as we've seen, not delivered at all; as howtheduck told us, the only new thing we know is that Lawrence used to suffer from shy bowel syndrome. Other than that Lynn has told us things we already know; we've already been briefed on the following facts:
- Elly is living in a self-inflicted Hell because she does too much work and never accepts offered help because they do it wrong.
- John is sort of insensitive and ridicules Elly's attempts at a career; the unpsoken context is that he knows that she'll lose interest anyway so she might as well fail where no one can see her.
- Elly is simply too stupid and self-absorbed to be a good parent and John is too detached most of the time to fill in the gap; this lead to Mike being forced to being Lizzie's primary caregiver with dubious-at-best results.
- Connie is desperate for male company and not-so-secretly regards Lawrence as a burden.
- Elly talks big about standing firm but caves all the time.
- Elly, never having been allowed a pet, can't figure out how animals behave.
- Annie likes to gossip about Connie and vice versa.
- Ted is a loser and the subject of female ridicule.
- Mike constantly embarrassed himself in front of Deanna and did whatever stupid things Lawrence told him to
- Lizzie was so filled with fear, she clung to Elly like a barnacle.
As we all know, Lynn promised that the first year of the new-ruin era would have at least 50 percent new material and, as we’ve seen, it has come to pass. It should also be noted that howtheduck and aprilp_katje are right to assume that now that she’s drawing the children with button noses again, she’s getting ready to transit to nearly-straight reprints some time in the next few months. All that she needs to do is fill in the hole that she ripped out of what should be this year’s story by introducing Farley and having Connie meet Phil a year before they were supposed to and explain away Deanna’s presence when she was supposed to have moved to Burlington. All she needs to do is remind us that Deanna was supposed to be enrolled in a French Immersion program so she’d be able to make herself understood in both of Canada’s official languages and that Mira is a more honest social climber than Elly is. She can do so by positing that Deanna currently lives on Burlington Street in Milborough with all the other kids whose parents presume to think they’re better than the Pattersons. After she pisses three months or so anyway on that, she can finally do something else with her time.
As you know, it was about this time last year that we were speculating on what form the new format would take. The three main questions were:
- how much new material would there be
- how closely would the artwork match Lynn’s original material
- what points would be expanded on.
The first question is the simplest to answer. That’s because Lynn promised that the first year would have fifty percent new material and each following a lesser percentage until a point came when the strip would be pretty much straight reprints. As I write this, she’s produced roughly one hundred and eighty so she’s at least kept that promise. I’m not sure how fast the ratio will decline over the years but however it plays out will be up to Lynn herself.
As for the artwork, she tried her best to match the older style but it was a promise she simply couldn’t deliver on. As we’ve seen, she’s got the new-old set of Pattersons looking like people from the latter years of the strip and reverted to her habit of showing them as if they were a few feet away from her. The older artwork might have been a subpar copy of Schulz but it, despite being a lot cruder than the style we’re used to, was better at expressing emotions.
The answer to the third question is the most complex. As we’ve seen, she seems to have spared little expense showing us how put-upon Elly is, how big and oblivious a jerk John is, how needy and weird Connie is, how big a show-off Annie is and how annoying the children are. In short, she’s amplified the negative at the expense of the characters’ likeability. What she hasn’t done, despite an implied promise to do so, is give her readers more of what they want to see: Farley. It looks to me that he’s pretty much the shaggy, lumbering, slow-witted extra that he was in the original strip; were it not for the hype surrounding him, we’d again be forgiven if we’d assumed that the Pattersons don’t have a pet.
As I said back when the new-ruins had first appeared eleven months ago, the whiplash between the old material and what I expected to be filler that "explained" what was happening in the background was going to be hard to deal with. The biggest problem that I saw was that Lynn had the John of the newer material look like a younger version of the affable goof of the Later Years. Sure, he still says dumb and insensitive things but that's because he's fairly dim. The REAL Young John was an unapologetic jerkass who went out of his way to remind us how little he thought of the little woman and her ambitions. Trying to reconcile the Raymond-esque dope of the new-runs with the evil prick of the Early Years is simply not going to work; the result is to make him look like an insane tool instead of a callous one.
It's not bad enough that Lynn has made Mike so freakishly advanced and turned a toddler into a vindictive little horror; what's worse is the reason she gives for Mike's rivalry with and domination by his little sister. It's something that annoyed me the last time I pointed it out, too: his envy of and need to do the things Lizzie does. He wants to play the same games she does, be fussed over like she does, get the same free pass on her antics and pretty much be thought of as a baby himself. This, as I'd said back then, is a load of old cobblers; the last thing any normal six-year old kid wants to be thought of as is an infant. The real Mike wanted Lizzie to stop doing baby stuff because it got in the way of the stuff he wanted to do; Lynn seems to have forgotten that and replaced the hateful-but-realistic roughneck of 1982 with the freaky little mutant of 2009.